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E Major Scale on Guitar: Positions & Theory

In this lesson we’re going to do a deep dive into the E major scale on guitar. We’ll cover everything from the notes and intervals to scale patterns and modes. We’ll harmonize the scale to build the chords of E major and take a look at some example songs that are based in the key of E. Let’s get started.

Notes of E Major

The E major is a diatonic scale consisting of 7 notes. It contains 4 sharps and 3 natural notes.

E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D#

Intervals

All major scales contain same interval structure and qualities. The intervals for E major are as follows:

  • Root
  • Major 2nd
  • Major 3rd
  • Perfect 4th
  • Perfect 5th
  • Major 6th
  • Major 7th

You can see these intervals illustrated in the diagram below:

Notes and intervals of the E major scale
E Major Scale Notes and Intervals

E Major Scale Structure

Major scales all share the same whole step/half step pattern of intervals that create the interval qualities of the major scale. Steps on the guitar have the following equivalent:

  • Whole step = 2 frets
  • Half step = 1 fret

The step formula for E major is:

Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Whole Step – Half Step

On the guitar, this whole step/half step pattern is shown in the diagram below.

Fretboard diagram for the formula of whole steps and half steps for the E major scale

As you can see in the diagram, we get the follow series of whole steps/half steps:

  • E to F# is 2 frets (whole step)
  • F# to G# is 2 frets (whole step)
  • G# to A is 1 fret (half step)
  • A to B is 2 frets (whole step)
  • B to C# is 2 frets (whole step)
  • C# to D# is 2 frets (whole step)
  • D# to E is 1 fret (half step)

E Major Scale Guitar Positions

Armed with the notes and intervals that make up the E major scale, we can use this to map out the scale across the entire fretboard. To do this, we’ll turn to the CAGED system, which creates five distinct patterns that connect up and down the neck. These memorable patterns make it much easier to learn the scale across the entire fretboard.

We’ll walk through each position of the scale below. Three diagrams are provided for each position which contain the following information:

  • Diagram 1: provides the notes of the scale
  • Diagram 2: provides the intervals of the scale
  • Diagram 3: provides the recommended fingering

As you work through each position, it’s important to note the position of the root notes. Root notes are absolutely essential and serve as anchor points for easily identifying and transitioning between scale positions.

Guitar tablature is provided for each position and starts with the lowest root note for a given position. This will help develop your ear for the sound of the E major scale and reinforce the root positions for each scale pattern.

Position 1

Fretboard diagram for notes, intervals, and fingerings for position 1 of the E major scale
E Major Scale – Position 1

Position 1 of the E major scale starts with the low root on the 12th fret of string 6. Starting with this note, play each note ascending and descending, ending back on the same root note in which you start. Tablature is provided below.

Make note of the root note pattern in this position. Position 1 contains 3 root notes, which are found on strings 1, 4, and 6.

Guitar tablature for position 1 of the E major scale

Position 2

Fretboard diagram for notes, intervals, and fingerings for position 2 of the E major scale
E Major Scale – Position 2

The 2nd position of the E major scale has the lowest root note on the 4th string.

This position contains two root notes, which are found on strings 4 and 2.

Guitar tablature for position 2 of the E major scale

Position 3

Fretboard diagram for notes, intervals, and fingerings for position 3 of the E major scale
E Major Scale – Position 3

Position 3 of the E major scale starts with the root note on the 5th string.

This position also contains two root notes, found on strings 3 and 5.

Guitar tablature for position 3 of the E major scale

Position 4

Fretboard diagram for notes, intervals, and fingerings for position 4 of the E major scale

Position 4 contains two root notes. The lowest root note for position 4 is found on the 5th string. The second root note is found on string 3.

This position requires a bit of a stretch on string 6 as it covers five frets.

Guitar tablature for position 4 of the E major scale

Position 5

Fretboard diagram for notes, intervals, and fingerings for position 5 of the E major scale

Position 5 is the only other position to contain three root notes, the lowest of which falls on string 6. The other two root notes are found on strings 3 and 1.

Guitar tablature for position 5 of the E major scale

Connecting the E Major Scale Positions

As stated above, each CAGED pattern of the E major scale will connect with adjacent patterns up and down the fretboard. The connected patterns are shown in the diagram below.

Diagrams of the E major scale patterns connected on the fretboard

Here you can see how the E major scale patterns connect. If you look closely at the bottom two frets of position 1 (frets 13 & 14 in the diagram) and compare the intervals/pattern to the first two frets of position 2 (frets 1 & 2 in the diagram), you can see how these positions also connect.

Chords in E Major

Chords for a given key or scale are derived from the notes that make up the scale. These chords can be built by harmonizing the scale. To harmonize a scale you stack thirds for each note in the scale to form triads. Triads are built from the root, 3rd, and 5th degrees of the scale. We’ll touch on the process here, but see Major Scale Chords to learn more about building triads.

To build the chords that belong to the E major scale let’s start by listing out the scale notes.

E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D#

E Major Chord

Fretboard diagram for e major chord
E Major Chord

Starting with E as the root, if we take the 1st, 3rd, and 5th notes we get the following triad:

E – F# – G# – A – B – C# – D#

  • E – G# – B

This gives us a root (E), major 3rd (G#), and perfect 5th (B) interval, which creates a major triad giving us the E major chord.

F# Minor Chord

Fretboard diagram for F sharp minor chord
F# Minor Chord

Using F# as the root and keeping the rest of the scale notes the same, we get the following triad from the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees of the scale.

F# G# A B C# – D# – E

  • F# – A – C#

This gives us a root (F#), minor 3rd (A), and perfect 5th (C#), which creates a minor triad giving us the F# minor chord.

G# Minor Chord

Fretboard diagram for G sharp minor chord
G# Minor Chord

Starting on G#, we get the following triad:

G# – A – B – C# – D# – E – F#

  • G# – B – D#

This gives us a root (G#), minor 3rd (B), and perfect 5th (D#), which creates a minor triad giving us the G# minor chord.

A Major Chord

Fretboard diagram for a major chord
A Major Chord

From the A note, we build the following triad from the 1st, 3rd, and 5th degrees:

A – B C# – D# – E – F# – G#

  • A – C# – E

This gives us a root (A), major 3rd (C#), and perfect 5th (E), which creates a major triad giving us the A major chord.

Fretboard diagram for B major chord
B Major Chord

B Major Chord

Starting with B, we get the following triad:

B – C# – D# – E F# – G# – A

This gives us a root (B), major 3rd (D#), and perfect 5th (F#), which creates a major triad giving us the B major chord.

Fretboard diagram for C sharp minor chord
C# Minor Scale

C# Minor Chord

Using C# as the root, we get the following triad:

C# – D# – E – F# – G# – A – B

  • C# – E – G#

This gives us a root (C#), minor 3rd (E), and perfect 5th (G#), which creates a minor triad giving us the C# minor chord.

Fretboard diagram for d sharp diminished chord
D# Diminished Chord

D# Diminished Chord

For our last chord, we’re starting with the D# note.

D# – E F# – G# – A – B – C#

This gives us a root (D#), minor 3rd (F#), and a flat 5th (A), which is a bit different than the previous chords. This triad has two minor 3rd intervals, which creates a diminished D# chord.

Putting it all together, the harmonized E major scale gives use the following chords:

DegreeIiiiiiIVVvivii°
ChordEF#mG#mABC#mD#dim
Chord NotesE – G# – BF# – A – C#G# – B – D#A – C# – EB – D# – F#C# – E – G#D# – F# – A

Parallel Minor Scale

A parallel scale is a scale in which the root note is the same as the referenced scale. Although it shares the same root, the interval qualities and notes are different. The parallel minor scale of E major is E minor.

Degree1234567
E MajorEF#G#ABC#D#
E MinorEF#GABCD

Relative Minor of E Major

Every major scale has a relative minor scale which contains all of the same notes. The relative minor is derived from the 6th degree of the major scale. In the case of E major, the relative minor is C#.

Degree1234567
NoteC#D#EF#G#AB

Although the C# minor scale contains all of the same notes as E major, the tonal center shifts to C#.

Modes of E Major

The following are the modes of E Major:

  • E Ionian (Major)
  • F# Dorian (Minor)
  • G# Phrygian (Minor)
  • A Lydian (Major)
  • B Mixolydian (Major)
  • C# Aeolian (Minor)
  • D# Locrian (Minor)

Songs in the Key of E Major

Below are some songs in the key of E major. Give them a listen to see if you can hear the tonal center of the song.

Wrap up

In this lesson we’ve covered the notes, intervals, and positions of the E major scale. We’ve also built the chords that belong to the scale, covered its parallel and relative minor scales as well as the modes of E major. You’re well equipped to explore the scale further by building chord progressions from the scale and utilizing the scale positions to practice soloing and improvisation.

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